Last night I went to a political debate at the middle school near my house. There, my friend Zach Robinson sat with his Republican opponent Robert Spendlove at table in front of about 40 people. The two of them talked about what mattered to them, and how they thought they could help the constituents of Sandy, Utah. They differed in ideology, but they were steadfast for their love of us. It was exactly what I needed this week.
Presidential elections are my Super Bowl. I look forward to them in the same way my kids look forward to Christmas. I believe they are a sacred time in our country where our obligations as citizens of our country cross paths with our obligations to each other. The peaceful transition of power in this our country is, in my opinion, among our finest achievements.
My daughter thinks that President Obama is the boss of America. That’s probably my fault. In a random, from the back seat conversation when I was distracted by trying not to drift into lanes of oncoming traffic I probably answered her first political question with an oversimplified answer. A few months ago when I told her that President Obama would no longer be our president, she asked if he was getting fired. I explained that no, he wasn’t getting fired. Presidents don’t stay presidents forever and every so often we get to choose a new one.
That blew her mind.
“We get to choose?”
“Yep! We do. That is called democracy.”
“I choose Pinkey Pie”
Pinkey Pie is a cartoon pony, and ineligible to be president. Not wanting to get into this, I explained that she could pick Pinky Pie when she was 18. She was fine with that.
Since then she has been wonderfully curious about democracy and civics. We’ve talked about the different branches of our government. We’ve talked about the different ways people can serve. We’ve talked about how a lot of the time people disagree on what the best choice is for our country, and the reason why we vote is to give everyone a voice in choosing.
“Just like we got to choose what to do in gym yesterday, huh dad?”
Things were going great. Then they weren’t. I told her she could watch the debate last week, not knowing that the first question would end up being whether or not one of our candidates meant it when he said he sexually assaulted women.
How do I explain that to her? Politics aren’t perfect, and the subject matter can be tricky, but I was planning on having trouble explaining tax policy, not consent and rape.
Don’t get me wrong. Those are really important topics and not ones we will shy away from in due time at our house. I just hate that it may have to be explained in the context of someone who may be “The Boss of America.”
So instead I played her the live-stream of Zach Robinson and Richard Spendlove talking about air-quality on the Wasatch Front. I let her listen to Zach talk about the years he spent as a fireman and how they taught him that everyone’s life matters, even those he doesn’t agree with. She heard these two men be kind to each-other and gracious. She heard what is right with America. She also got bored quickly, and wanted to play on the iPad… but that is more of a six-year-old thing than a problem with politics.
Like I said. The debate was exactly what I needed. I needed to believe.
This presidential election has felt like a punch in the chest. It has gotten worse and worse, and I have started to end every day burying my head in my pillow and just wishing it was over. Until last night…
Until last night, what I’d forgotten is that there are only two presidential candidates compared to the thousands of other candidates and volunteers out there working hard every single day to gather signatures, knock on doors, and talk about issues that matter to real people.
There are propositions and amendments to be voted on. There are Federal and State Senators and Representatives. There are bond measures, and taxes. There are issues that will affect each and every single one of us on a personal level. Last night I saw two people who had different ideas about those things, but a shared love for the people of our country.
The greatest kindness you can do for a person is know them, and last night I saw two candidates who genuinely wanted to know their constituents. They both stayed after the event and had long, sometimes difficult discussions with everyone who wanted to talk to them. It was exactly what a civil servant should be. Civil.
As long as we still have people like that, good people of any party willing to commit their time and talents to the public good, I have to believe our country will be ok.
I still believe, and I hope you do too. Our kids are watching.
P.S. I endorse Zach Robinson for Utah State Representative, District 49. Robert Spendlove seems like a nice guy too though.